Cover Story

Master of the Mutants

A behind-the-scenes look at ''X-Men: The Last Stand'': With a new director, new characters, and all sorts of new pressures, can the comic-book franchise stay in the black?

JACKMAN
Image credit: Hugh Jackman: Nels Israelson
JACKMAN

Three weeks before the release of X-Men: The Last Stand, Brett Ratner bops into the Fox commissary trailed by a reporter and is immediately greeted by well-wishers. First up is Twentieth Century Fox chair Tom Rothman, who sidles up to the 37-year-old director's table and expresses his opening-day high hopes.

''We will be in every country in the world with close to 16,000 prints on the same day,'' says Rothman. ''We don't have any real competition. We'll play all June — but none of it would mean a damn if the movie weren't any good, and he's done a great job.''

Next, Fox marketing guru Tony Sella escorts a commissary staffer named Janet to the table.

''What did you just tell me?'' Sella asks her.

''I saw the trailer last night and it looked amazing,'' repeats Janet, obediently.

''How many X-Men movies have you been to?'' Sella prods.

''I've never seen any of them and it made me want to see this one.''

''Brutally honest,'' says Sella, satisfied. ''And she's not even [serving] this table.''

Ratner beams...until he learns that this article will be as much about Ratner as the movie itself.

''S---,'' he swears. ''I'm screwed.''

Brett Ratner is an affable guy, jovial and ingratiating. It's obvious from the way he works a room — warmly shaking hands and pulling others close to his squat frame — that he wants people to like him. Try as he may, though, he can't seem to get on the good side of the press these days. This week, while he put finishing touches on the biggest film of his career, Us Weekly ran a story about how Lindsay Lohan showed up at his house and found him in bed with his girlfriend, pouty Romanian model Alina Puscau. (''We're only friends,'' says Ratner of Lohan.) Tabloids and Hollywood-gossip websites like Defamer continue to harp on his personal life while dismissing him professionally. Even Harry Knowles, the founder of movie fansite Ain't It Cool News, who once lauded Ratner for the Rush Hour films, has turned against him.

Ratner, in a rumpled dress shirt and jeans, seems genuinely confounded, even betrayed, by the ill will. ''Go back and look at what he wrote about me for Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2,'' he says, his voice pitching up at least an octave at the mention of Knowles. ''He wrote that I was the s---. Now I'm a hack?''

Fortunately for Ratner, neither his playboy persona — he's been romantically linked to tennis star Serena Williams, model Naomi Campbell, and actress Rebecca Gayheart — nor the fanboy perception that he is unskilled seems to prevent him from getting work. (In addition to Rush Hour 3 on the horizon, he's developing a flashy heist movie with Brian Grazer.) And that's what keeps him confident. ''Do you think that this studio would give me several hundred million dollars if I wasn't a serious filmmaker?'' he says, lowering his voice and glancing around at all the Fox execs. ''These guys are not f---ing around.''

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